The Great Smoky Mountains are the defining feature and namesake of the most visited national park in the United States, and the region has its fair share of history and glamour. It’s the home of music legend Dolly Parton and was once a favorite getaway of Hank Williams. The towns surrounding the Smokies offer views of the stunning scenery, including the haziness that gives the park its name, and they’re also worthy of their own dedicated visit. Gatlinburg, in particular, is one of the most famous Tennessee vacation spots worth checking out.
Be sure to take plenty of photographs of the below Gatlinburg attractions to share your experiences with friends and family back home. They won’t believe your adventures until they see them on your Instagram feed!
Below are five places to grab the perfect ‘Gram in and around Gatlinburg.
1. Hike or Drive Through the Great Outdoors
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is made up of more than 500,000 acres spread across two states. The area includes sections of the Appalachian Trail, as well as the highest mountain peak in Tennessee. There’s no shortage of photogenic landscapes you can visit any time of year, whether you’re a hiker or not.
Visit the highest point in Tennessee at the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower, which lets you take in all 6,643 feet of elevation and the resulting vistas. The spruce-fir forest is stunning in the fall and winter, especially from the modern platform. Turn on your camera or phone’s panorama setting to capture the full effect.
Cades Cove is considered one of the most beautiful locations within the national park. The isolated valley is its own historic district, which includes log cabins from the 1800s, primitive churches and a gristmill. Wildlife is frequently spotted here. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the black bears, elk and deer that call this area home. Getting a shot of these creatures requires a little patience and luck — and perhaps a zoom lens — but the rewards are well worth the effort.
If you’re traveling by car, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is an incredible drive with a number of places to stop to admire preserved gristmills, as well as waterfalls like Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls. Note that during the spring and fall, there are days when the path is only open to cyclists and pedestrians, so check online or with your concierge before heading there by car.
2. Get Up, Up and Away
You don’t have to lace up your hiking boots to experience some of the area’s most beautiful views. All you need is a sense of adventure — and maybe to swallow your fear of heights!
The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel is a colorful Ferris wheel in the neighboring town of Pigeon Forge. Located at The Island shopping and dining district, the wheel has soared to 200 feet since opening in 2013. The glass pods can accommodate up to eight passengers and provide stunning views during both day and night rides.
The Ober Gatlinburg is one of America’s largest aerial tramways, and it’s perfect for getting a bird’s eye view of the surrounding scenery. Enjoy the ride up 11,000 feet into the ski area and theme park, which was built in 1973. The park offers year-round activities including ice skating, an Alpine coaster and an arcade.
Similarly, the Anakeesta mountaintop park is accessible by a combination chairlift gondola, dubbed a “chondola.” Activities in the park include ziplining, a treetop sky bridge and a mountain coaster along with shops and restaurants.
3. Funky Landmarks
Country music legend Dolly Parton has her own statue in front of the Sevierville courthouse. You may not get to meet her IRL, but this is pretty close. Snap a selfie with this life-sized statue of Dolly as she sits holding her guitar.
The tunnel at the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is another incredibly photogenic spot. A moving sidewalk takes guests through the tanks, and you might even spot a shark as you make your way under the domed passageway. Play around with the low-lighting settings on your phone or camera to capture shadowy images of these majestic creatures as they swim overhead.
Pose in front of the rope bridge and leave your wishes at Prosperity Mountain at Foxfire Mountain Adventure Park. It’s hard to snap photos while you’re wearing a harness and helmet, but the experienced staff at the park can take photos for you as you zip along the highest, fastest and longest zipline in the Smokies.
Just like its Nashville sister restaurant, you can expect to wait in line to dine at Pancake Pantry. But the food is worth the wait! Snap a photo of pancakes as large as your head topped with an apple compote. The joint also serves egg dishes and lunch fare.
Next door, get a Boomerang of house-made donuts being crafted at The Donut Friar. The longtime Gatlinburg favorite is a great place to get your sweet tooth fix with dozens of flavors (keep in mind that the spot is cash only). Bring a dozen donuts back to your room at Bent Creek Golf Village, Diamond’s relaxing Gatlinburg-based retreat, to enjoy later.
The Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon Forge sits inside the former gristmill and serves Southern-style fare on locally produced pottery. Chow down on family-style portions of fried chicken, collard greens and cornbread. If you like the dishware, you can even pop across the street to Old Mill Pigeon River Pottery to purchase a set of your own.
5. Cabin Vibes
You don’t have to stay in a cabin to appreciate the rustic style of Gatlinburg’s accommodations. Diamond Resorts has two incredible properties to choose from. In Gatlinburg, Bent Greek Golf Village has a seasonal pool for relaxing after a hike, as well as rooms with queen beds and sofa beds. The resort’s golf course provides a beautiful backdrop for mid-swing action shots that are on par with the pros’.
In Pigeon Forge, Sunrise Ridge Resort is a few miles from a variety of Gatlinburg attractions (including the park) and has balconies overlooking the forest. The resort boasts three swimming pools, fire pits and grills. Choose from one- or two-bedroom suites, including some with lofted areas for entertaining.
Before you book your Gatlinburg vacation, be sure your devices are charged up — you won’t want to miss a moment of the stunning scenery surrounding the Great Smoky Mountains.
Diamond Resorts International Marketing, Inc., its parents, sister companies, and subsidiaries, make no warranty, express or implied, as to the condition, capacity, performance or any other aspect of the activities, events, or service providers listed herein. No inquiry has been made into the activities or events, or the qualifications or the quality of services offered by the providers. Do not consider this an endorsement of or recommendation for any of the activities, events, or providers.